Monday, January 19, 2009


The Presumption of Innocence

I have a friend who is a defense attorney.  She’s a mighty fine lawyer in my estimation.  The last time I was called for jury duty in Hoquiam she represented the defendant in the case up for a hearing.  She began the process of jury selection by asking all potential jurors: “right now, before the trial even begins, how many of you would vote to acquit my client?”  I was the only potential juror to raise my hand.  “Why did you raise your hand,” she asked?  “Because,” I said, “in our system a person is presumed innocent and I have heard nothing here that would yet alter my presumption of your client’s innocence.”  “Thank you,” she said, and continued on to more questions.  At the next opportunity the prosecutor, whom I also knew, dismissed me preemptively.  He didn’t have to state a reason for kicking me out of the jury pool but I suspected he didn’t want someone to serve who carried the presumption of innocence into the hearing. 


The presumption of innocence has been getting a severe flogging recently.  In fact, as I write this commentary [early January], the Democratic leadership of the United States Senate has just refused to accept the credentials of Roland Burris as the appointed senator from Illinois to fill the seat resigned by president-elect Barack Obama.  Boy, that guy Burris must have really done something awful for senate majority leader Harry Reid to have turned him away.  Remember just last month the senate lionized seven-time convicted felon Senator Ted Stevens after his defeat in November’s election.  Senator Steven’s farewell speech prompted a standing ovation, tears and a stream of farewell speeches from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The most poignant speech came from legendary fellow earmarker, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a dear, longtime friend of Stevens - and the longest serving member of the Senate rose on the floor to recite a personalized version of a famous Irish poem in honor of his friend: "May all the roads which you have built, Ted, rise up to meet you.  Bless your heart, Ted," Byrd concluded, "I love you."  Even majority leader Reid could not restrain himself when he called Stevens “a lion” and acknowledged Steven’s ability to steer billions of earmarked federal funding to Alaska.  

He has been an advocate for his state, and that's an understatement," Reid said. "I wish nothing but the best for Ted, Catherine [his wife] and his daughter, who I've known since she was a little girl."


Now surely, after all that praise of a felonious senator, convicted on seven counts of bribery, this Roland Burris must have done something truly horrific to have Harry Reid refuse to swear him in as a senator.


Burris’s crime?  Having been appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojivich. 


Blago, it seems, has been accused - - accused of being involved in a pay-to-play scheme to sell Barack Obama’s old senate seat.  Horror!  Outrage!  Never been heard of before in the U. S. Congress.  Never?


Surely no other member of congress has ever sold himself for money.  Surely no senator or congressman from Washington state has ever done so. 


Question: and lipstick is not the answer.  What’s the difference between Norm Dicks, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Rob Blagojivich?  Handcuffs.  


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